Mysteries inspired Schiesser’s career
When Rita Schiesser was growing up in South Milwaukee, she and her friend liked to ride their bikes to South Milwaukee’s Carnegie Library where she would find a chair in the back of the bookcases and read a non-fiction or mystery book.
“I had all the books to myself,” she remembers.
Now as she retires after 28 years with the Algoma Public Library and its director since 2005, Schiesser says that her love of mysteries continued to guide her for the rest of her career.
Whether it was the mysteries of biology and geography, which she studied at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, or the mysteries of the location of special books or pieces of information requested by library users – solving them was what inspired her every day.
“It was always a mystery … your first instinct is to figure out what they (library users) want and then where it is,” she said. “There is great satisfaction in seeing someone happy with what you found for them.”
The library’s services have changed dramatically since Schiesser took the job of director of adult services after the birth of her fourth child in 1987. The library still checked out books by signed cards stamped with the due date and it had just acquired its first Apple computer.
Schiesser was made the “tech” person and realized she wanted to make a career at the library, so she completed the requirements for her Grade 2 certificate with online courses through the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In the next two decades, the library would continue to grow as a center of the community. The first major change came in 1997, when computerization allowed 54 Wisconsin libraries to form a consortium that allowed users access to books and other information at all of the libraries.
“When it happened, it was a wonderful thing,” said Schiesser. The libraries could now share books and other materials and “people loved it,” she said.
The Algoma library also developed one of the most unique genealogy research sections in Northeast Wisconsin.
“Genealogy is very big in this community,” she said, noting that thanks to a donation in memory of Maynard and Clarise Feld, the library was able to put newspapers from 1873 to 1960 online through the Algoma School District’s host server. This allowed people to search for obituaries and other information on their ancestors that was published in the county’s newspapers.
Schiesser said that the library recently received a request for 100 obituaries for genealogy research.
As part of the historical record preservation, two men – Harold Nell and Wesley Cox – used the records from city hall and the library’s online newspapers to develop a history of every house in Algoma.
“It is a very popular resource, especially for people who come to the community and want to buy a house here,” she said.
Schiesser said that she is particularly proud of the library’s Employment Station, for which she helped write a grant during the 2008 recession to assist people in finding jobs.
“It is still used almost every day,” she said about the station, which features a computer and monitor, a well as other resources developed in partnership with the Door County Job Center.
Through her years at the library, she has helped to establish “maker spaces” in the Algoma library, where people who are not looking for books can gather to do a puzzle, craft or play on an iPad. “Maker spaces” are now popular in libraries to encourage creativity, she said..
The library currently has a 1,000-piece community puzzle that various people will work on while they are at the library.
“The other day a woman was in here looking for a book while her husband worked on the puzzle,” she said. “Grandparents with their grandchildren will come in to work on it.”
Schiesser said that it has been “a privilege” to work with the talented staff at the library.
“This is a very welcoming library,” she said. “You get to know people … what they like and what they might be looking for.”
Although her official last day was Dec. 26, Schiesser said she has already been back twice and helped Amanda Burns, the library’s new director, with the transition. Burns previously served as director of the Suring library in Oconto Falls.
“I know that I have wonderful big shoes to fill,” Burns said..
As to the future of the library without her, Schiesser said that while e-books have an important role to play in the future of reading, particularly for people who have vision problems, books are probably here to stay.
“I think that for a while there was a big surge in e-books … but I still like the feeling of a book in my hand,” she said.
With her new free time, Schiesser said she will have more time to visit her children and grandchildren who all live in Northeast Wisconsin. She said she will also be busy with other civic organizations in which she is a member, including the Algoma Optimists, Algoma Lions Club and, of course, Friends of the Algoma Public Library.
“The Algoma library will continue to be a comfortable place that makes people feel good,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Mysteries inspired Schiesser's career